What I am attempting to write is urban legend, what I remember of Doughnuts. Not too much to tell, really; not so urban when you consider a town as small as Toronto-- Toronto, Ohio, that is, if I may be so bold to borrow the tease on words from a local cookbook.
Doughnuts walked in a perpetual stoop, hands folded upon the small of his back, his oversized overcoat swaying from side to side. You could not see one feature of scenery where he trod, not so much as a flower, a mailbox, a lawn ornament, when you saw Doughnuts walking, you saw only his gait. Whether he liked it or not, whether he wanted it or not, he commanded attention.
They said he walked this way because he had spent so much of his life down in the local mines. Doughnuts had a pair of paws like sledges, forearms and wrists like steel cables, no doubt from picking veins of coal. His bewhiskered face was as angular and chiseled as the coal veins he hacked daily.
Or had he been a miner at all?
There were other rumors about his origins. The one I heard most and the one making the most sense to this then teenager was Doughnuts held a patented invention for Titanium (Timet today) that made him a millionaire eccentric, our little town version of Howard Hughes.
The locals said that Doughnuts lived along the riverbank in the company of dogs in the south end. They also said he walked stooped over because he was always searching for money, a strange habit I thought for a millionaire, but befitting of an eccentric one.
I encountered Doughnuts only a few times. I was inside Melhorn’s, sitting upon a red vinyl bar stool sipping on Cokes and puffing on cigarettes with friends. Doughnuts came in and skulked to the corner booth near the jukebox. Whether music played, I cannot remember, if it did I wouldn’t have heard anyway, his presence commanded that much attention. The waitress came to him. He ordered coffee and powered doughnuts. A couple of minutes later, Lou Melhorn himself brought the man two doughnuts and the coffee pot. Doughnuts carefully tilted the pot and trickled the steamy coffee into a saucer, not a cup. He then dipped a powdered doughnut into his coffee, nibbled on it, and then tilted the saucer to his mouth.
He was British, we decided. That’s how they drank coffee over there. We were 12 and 13 and worldly. Worldly, we watched him dip his doughnuts and sip his coffee, until he finished. And then he stood, hunkered over and wobbled through the haze of tobacco smoke, out the door, into the invigorating air, seasoned with coal soot, fly ash, lead fumes and steel dust. We watched through the big picture window his head hobble by, disappearing south on Trenton Street, then Ohio Route 7, busy with traffic.
One other time, I encountered the man everyone called Doughnuts, perhaps that same summer of Kool Aid, Melhorn’s Popsicles and filterless cigarettes.
One of the Conlon twins accompanied me along the north sidewalk of the Overhead Bridge. Hardly anyone walked the south side, still to this day. If you wanted to take the shortcut, you sidled along the concrete base and skipped across the railroad tracks in the cool eternal shadows below, saving you something like 15 to 20 seconds. Above at the western base of the north sidewalk, we saw Doughnuts heading toward us, a caricature of a man from where we stood, his head seeming directly stemmed to his shoes because of his pronounced stoop.
Usually in the Gem City, they name the streets and buildings after someone, someone deceased. Pretty sure no one in town had bore the surname Overhead. “Overhead” made more sense when you were taking the 15-second shortcut.
But we were not taking the 20-second shortcut; we were striding along the side of the sidewalk everybody took, including someone walking stooped over with his hands clasped behind the small of his back.
Our paths intersected near the top where in my insolence, I said, “How are you doing, Doughnuts?”
He swiveled his head, his eyes steely and penetrating, “None of your God-damned business how I am doing.” His voice was like sandpaper, number 2 grit. It certainly wasn’t High Tea British.
Another time I saw Doughnuts up close. I am uncertain what year. I certainly couldn’t pin a date by his visage. He was one of those people like your Great Uncle Harry or your afghan-knitting baba, who always looked old, even when they were younger than you in those faded brown vignettes sitting forever with the knickknacks upon the fireplace mantle. Doughnuts, I had to believe, was born gray on a gray day and swaddled in sandpaper.
He was part of a crew pouring a sidewalk in a neighbor’s yard on the Federal Street side of the ally, cattycorner from my parents’ home on Biltmore. Shielded from potential steely rebuke, I spied upon him behind shrubs. Immediately I lost focus on the other workers and features of the house and yard. Had a spittoon of gold glistened at the end of the rainbow, I wouldn’t have paid it a glance. I saw only Doughnuts, his whiskers glistening with sweat. He worked hard. He wheeled the wheelbarrow, hoed, shoveled, troweled. He made that concrete lay down like an unruly puppy. Occasionally, he would stand erect, all six feet of him, to point out some flaw in the concrete that needed attention, and then he would resume his robotic labors.
He had what we T-town Hunkies called the Hunky work ethic, although I didn’t know ethic from ethnic, but I did know Doughnuts was one hell of a worker and didn’t stoop because of some physical impairment.
I would later learn the man I had insolently called “Doughnuts” to his face was actually named Barney and like a large number of T-townies, he was of Eastern European descent, like me. I would also learn later somehow through the self-awareness that the slow incubation of
maturity brings, I had stooped lower than the tail of Barney Evanosky’s overcoat and was most deserving of being called a few choice names, the one most salient starting with the letter A and ending in E, and I don’t mean Ace.
I did learn Mr. Evanosky wintered in Bergholz and returned every spring to Toronto. I like to think Toronto, Ohio is the center of the Universe.
I like to think of him as another colorful character in the history of this colorful city, another gem of the Gem City, and upon a soft windy summer evening, you can smell a trace of powdered sugar in the air and you can hear the steady clomp of invisible footsteps ascending the north sidewalk of the Overhead Bridge, and somehow the surroundings become fuzzy as though you are looking through a time telescope out-of-focus, and all so silent, and the clomps trickle into the distance while dogs howl in recognition.